Game 26 Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Memphis Grizzlies (12-13) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (13-12)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 86-84 vs Sacramento, Memphis: L, 89-84 vs San Antonio

The Wolves face Memphis in Memphis tonight.

The Wolves face the Grizzlies in Memphis tonight.

The Timberwolves, somehow, despite Jimmer Fredette’s best efforts, and because of Nikola Pekovic’s, moved above the .500 mark for the first time since 2007, beating the Kings in Minnesota last night. It was the Wolves’ first of two games without Kevin Love, serving a suspension for stepping on Luis Scola’s face on Saturday.

An exhausted Grizzlies team fell to the Spurs on Monday, as three starters (Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley) played for more than 40 minutes. Gasol led the banged up Grizz with 22 points in a loss.

The Key Questions

#1. Why have the Grizzlies been losing so much this year?

Easy answer: injuries. Memphis was projected as a title contender early, but they have stumbled out of the gate to a 12-13 start, largely due to the gaping hole at power forward created by Zach Randolph’s torn right MCL. When he returns to the lineup in early March, don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies go on a bit of a tear.

Despite Randolph’s absence, the Grizzlies are still dangerous, and they have beaten the Wolves once already this year without Randolph. Plus they are 7-4 at home, which is where the Wolves face them tonight.

#2. Is Pekovic super awesome or just awesome?

As I was leaving the arena after the Houston game on Saturday, a vendor was holding up a jersey, shaking it so everyone would notice him. Love? Rubio? Nope. Nikola Pekovic. I almost regretted the Rubio Muskies jersey I had just purchased. Almost.

Pek has been super awesome, obviously. He was 9-12 from the field against Sacramento and grabbed 10 rebounds. More importantly, he was the only player on the floor for Minnesota who could score during the third quarter, keeping the Wolves in the game. He’s averaging 18.5 ppg in his last four games. Big, strong, and surprisingly talented, Pek might actually be my favorite subplot of the very young season.

#3. How did the bench perform, filling in for Love?

Surprisingly well, actually. Beasley took too many shots (7-21 from the field for 17 points) but he pulled down 14 rebounds and played with energy. I continue to think he makes a great sixth man off the bench. Derrick Williams got the start in Love’s place and scored 14 points on 5-10 shooting. He disappeared in the fourth quarter, save for the biggest shot of the game, a corner trey on a kick-out from Rubio.

They are a temporary fix, to be sure, but the tandem of Williams-Beasley should be able to fill in respectably for Love for one more game. Hopefully.

The Key Matchups

Last time these teams met, Beasley was matched up against Rudy Gay, who scored 19. This game, it will probably be Wes Johnson guarding Gay, which could be a problem. Wes’ biggest advantage as a defender is his length and athleticism, both of which are also strengths of Gay.

Don’t be surprised if Pek comes a little closer to Earth tonight. Gasol is incredibly long and talented…the kind of player we worry about Pek guarding. On the other hand, we worried about Pek a lot anyway, and look how dumb we look now.

The Grizzlies’ bench is getting pretty thin with all their injuries. Hopefully Minnesota preserved enough energy last night to try to run Memphis off the floor.

Tony Allen torched the Wolves for 20 last time they matched up. I like Ridnour, but matching him up with Allen scares me. Of course, we are also hoping that Allen, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, doesn’t decide to guard Rubio tonight. Ugh.

The Outlook

This game could be tough. Although Memphis has a thin bench, they are also much more dangerous at home, and the Wolves had a difficult game last night. Plus, of course, they are without Love. Multiple players will have to step up for Minnesota if they are to have a chance tonight.

Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North